I had a long list of things to write about today, but in the end one magical moment grabbed my attention; the hares above Kelling Hard.
Native to Britain, they remain a sight for sore eyes in much of the island, but in this area they are seen in nearly every field, in the pastures, on the marshes, even bounding along the hedge-lined lanes. I am still at the point of savouring seeing them without having to seek them out. Like the barn owl earlier this month, if you remain alert to their possibility, they will appear.
It is May and my expectation is that hares are now settled into family groups, with territories agreed and the contest for female attention passed. So, I am surprised to see a stand-off between two hares. One is sitting tall on its haunches, ears pricked forelegs at chest height, looking like a relative of a kangaroo, or wallaby. The other is in a stalking, crouched position. Its shoulders and hips bulge above the outline of its back, it is ready to pounce; its ears are down, aligned with its back.
The upright hare ensures that it holds its tall, confident posture, but has to turn where it is facing to follow his crouched opponent, who circles, trying to gain a place from where to attack. This posing and positioning, the stand-off continues for several minutes. It is clear that neither is going to turn tail on the other. Around the field numerous other hares quietly graze in the lee of the hill, enjoying the last warmth of the day’s sun.
Suddenly, the two spring into action. Kicking and flailing at each other. There is a moment when they are both fighting in mid-air; backs bent to the fight so all feet can claw at the other. In this combined leap they repeatedly scratch and hit out, twisting like air-borne fighting blackbirds, the hares’ sprinters’ limbs a blur.
I am watching this from behind a low hedge down the slope. When they launch into action they break the line of the horizon above and I see blue sky beneath them; they continue fighting stalled in flight at the point before gravity brings them back to earth – Norfolk Ninja warriors.
The last vivid memory that I have of watching such behaviour was when I was a primary school pupil. It may have been during the March of 1968. Our teacher, Mrs Lally, took the class for a walk out of the school, past the art college and along the bank of the river. She told us about weeping willows, we saw grey, fluffy, ugly-duckling cygnets with their mute swan parents, rainbow trout against the gravel in the shallow river and across the water meadows, on the other side of the Itchen, hares. These were the already renown Mad March Hares, in good numbers, with three of four pairs boxing with each other.
As a child I was lucky to be part of a family where going for walks and learning about the natural world was part of growing up, even though we lived in a spacious, suburban, dormitory town. As a consequence, most of what I was shown on those school walks was not new to me, but the boxing hares were novel and exciting to see; lively, wild animals behaving badly – what a treat!
On this evening walk I had seen another family of greylags, but this time with just two adult geese in charge. I had my binoculars to hand and was able to count twelve goslings being shepherded by the parents. Something spooked the parent birds and they quickly set off with the goslings towards a shallow ditch where they could shelter en masse. The adults, instead of walking tall, heads elevated like periscopes, ran crouched low to the grass, beaks held out in advance, just a few inches above the grass, tails counter-balancing this unusual position, also just a couple of inches from the turf. The goslings moving in unsteady single-file between the big birds, allowed me to be more certain of their number. Can greylag geese count their hatchlings, or do they just instinctively protect the ones who can keep up?
The call of cuckoos is becoming as commonplace as the sight of the swifts above the red-tiles in the villages here. Swallows are now more obvious in better numbers. Various bee species lay a gentle background buzzing to accompany moments sheltered from the wind.
Against the setting Sun I see the shape of someone emerge from the sea. The man is up and away, jogging on home without much hesitation. I am wearing a cycling jacket and at least two good layers underneath that. Swimming in the North Sea might be good for me in some ways, (blood circulation, a sense of being in the present, a stimulant) but pneumonia is something I wish to avoid.
The wind gets at my chest and despite being sun-burnt on my face, I do not feel totally healthy as a result.
I will not report on the temperature today, other than to note that it is normal for Norfolk.
6th May, 2020